Centenary of the Archdiocese of Orthodox Churches of Russian Tradition in Western Europe

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Birth of the archdiocese.

On April 8, 1921 (March 26 according to the old Julian calendar) the Patriarch of Moscow Tikhon (canonized in 1989 as Saint Tikhon) issued two decrees (No. 423 and No. 424) entrusting Archbishop Evlogiy, who found himself in a situation of being a refugee abroad, with authority over all Russian churches in Western Europe. This decision confirms the one taken in October 1920 by the Provisional Ecclesiastical High Directorate of South-East Russia, a structure ensuring ecclesiastical authority in the area not occupied by the Red Army and cut off at that time from the Moscow Patriarchal administration which was under Bolshevik occupation. Soon, Archbishop Evlogiy also received a letter from Metropolitan Benjamin of Petrograd (one of the first to be soon martyred and canonized in 1992), confirming that he was transmitting to him his jurisdiction over these parishes in Western Europe, which until now depended on the Metropolitan of Saint Petersburg (later Petrograd).

This is how we can mark the date of birth of a great archdiocese (even if this name of archdiocese was not to be imposed until later under Archbishop George Tarassoff) which was not only to bring together tens of thousands of refugees of theRussian Empire and their descendants, but which was to have a resonance in cultural and religious history beyond the limits of the Orthodox diaspora born of the political upheavals in 20th century Eastern Europe. During that century and in the following century, this archdiocese was to play not only a role of an ark for the thousands of faithful thrown on the roads of one of the greatest exoduses in history, but it was also to play a role of witness and a role of bridge between cultures, attracting hundreds or even thousands of men and women from the populations of Western Europe wishing to either become Orthodox or to simply enter in dialogue with Orthodoxy or, simply curious to know a foreign faith and culture which was still mostly unknown. The archdiocese will contribute not only to an unprecedented and prestigious history of an overseas Russia, but also to the enrichment of the historical and cultural heritage of France, Benelux, Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy, Scandinavia and other countries. Pastoral work in difficult, sometimes extreme conditions, the maintenance of historical monuments located on their territories, the work of research and teaching, dialogue with the Christian churches of the Catholic and Protestant world, the realization of new cultural works signed by creators and thinkers whose reputation was already or will become global – architects, painters, composers, singers, writers, historians, philosophers, teachers and theologians working for the archdiocese, its parishes and its institutions – is only part of the contribution to this history, the centennial of which we are celebrating.

The Russian civil war

An exceptional historical context: an exodus of millions of refugees form an Orthodox diaspora from the former Russian Empire

Between 1917 and 1922, about three million refugees fled the new Soviet regime (mass departures took place mainly between 1919 and 1920).

Some of these expatriates found themselves outside the USSR because of the change of borders (independence of several countries subject to the Russian Empire before 1918), the strategic withdrawal of anti-Bolshevik troops (so-called "white" armies) beyond these same borders or because they were already stationed or in exile abroad. These exiles—Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians, indigenous Siberians, Caucasians or belonging to any other ethnic group of the immense Empire—represented all social categories and political oppositions (proven or perceived as such) targeted by the policy of extreme terror carried out by the Red Army and the Cheka (ancestor of the KGB): elites of large cities or provinces, nobles or middle-class people, high-ranking or modest government employees but also, many Cossacks, and peasants rich or poor opposed to the requisitions of the Red Army, simple volunteer soldiers in the white armies. Institutions of all religions were particularly targeted by an armed campaign: mass executions and deportations to concentration camps of clergy, monks and nuns and lay people active in the church began in the first months following the October Revolution and would continue until the 1930s. This endangered the lives of all the clergy as well as thousands of church employees — beadles, church wardens, guards and others like candle sellers or singers.

It is in this context that several dozen priests and thirty-four of the bishops

having survived the campaign of mass arrests and executions found themselves abroad at the end of the bloody civil war, among whom was one of the most prominent high clerics of the former Russian Empire, also a former deputy of the Duma, Archbishop Evlogiy who was on a mission in Serbia in 1920 and unable to retrun to the South of the former Russian Empire entirely invaded by the Red Army at the end of the year.

These clerics would have to provide for the spiritual needs of all the other refugees.

This massive displacement of populations, described as the "first emigration", one of the largest exoduses in contemporary history, will be the first of the three from what had been the Russian Empire and what was to become the USSR.

The "second emigration" is a consequence of the Second World War. About half a million Soviet citizens became, according to the United Nations administrative term, "DPs"(Displaced Persons): expatriates fleeing the USSR and the new Stalinist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe, accidental refugees tossed on the roads of Europe by bombings and the ebb and flow of the front, former Axis collaborators, or prisoners of war held in camps, freed by the Western Allies and unable to return to the USSR under the threat of extreme sanctions (those who surrendered to the enemy were considered traitors). To these must be added those of the "first emigration" inhabiting Eastern Europe and China fleeing the advance of Soviet or Maoist troops (most were admitted to Australia or California; few, however, found themselves in Western Europe).

The "third emigration" or "third wave" arrived gradually from 1974, after Brezhnev, under international pressure, especially American pressure, had agreed to let out every year, little by little, a few thousand applicants for exit visas, mainly to Israel. According to international agreements, an orientation centre in Austria sent exiles who did not wish to become Israelis to reception centres in Rome and its suburbs where they had to wait to be accepted in another country of their choice. The Archdiocese was involved to ensure their spiritual and even material needs. Until the disappearance of the USSR, a great number of these exiles of the "Third emigration" found themselves in Paris and Western Europe where they considerably increased the assets of the parishes and institutions of the Archdiocese.

The historical origins of the Archdiocese: organizing as a Church during an exodus.

In 1918, in the midst of the Civil War, the Orthodox Church of the former Russian Empire, meeting in council, had just elected their new primate, Patriarch Tikhon. Quickly cut off from the rest of the world and many other Russian bishops, Tikhon was less and less free of his movements and words. In November 1918, 13 bishops located in Tomsk (Siberia) behind the lines of the white troops and cut off from the patriarchate's administration founded a "Provisional Ecclesiastical High Administration". It was on this model that in May 1919, a "Provisional Ecclesiastical High Administration of South-Eastern Russia" was formed in Stavropol in the Caucasus, in territory controlled by the White Armies.

On October 2 (October 15) 1920, by appointment from the Provisional High Administration of the Church of South-East Russia under the direction of Metropolitan Antoniy (Hrapovitskiy) in Simferopol, Archbishop Evlogiy was appointed as the hierarch "in charge of the administration of all Russians in Western Europe. churches as diocesan bishop "

Evacuation of the troops of the volunteer army from Crimea

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In November 1920, a huge fleet evacuating nearly 200,000 refugees from Ukraine and the Don region arrived in the port of Constantinople with the help of the allies occupying Turkey. On November 19, all the evacuated bishops organized on board one of the ships an assembly of the Provisional Ecclesiastical High Administration of South-Eastern Russia, which they renamed in December "Russian Ecclesiastical High Administration Abroad". This organization was to be approved by Patriarch Tikhon and was to be joined by other bishops already stationed abroad.

On April 8, 1921, Edicts Nos. 423 and 424 of Patriarch Tikhon confirmed the decision taken already in Crimea by the Provisional Ecclesiastical High Administration of south-eastern Russia to appoint Archbishop Evlogiy as head of Russian parishes and the faithful in Western Europe and instituted a provisional administration of Russian parishes in Western Europe. This vast diocese also included at the time, several territories of Central Europe.

After a brief stay in Germany, His Eminence Evlogiy (a metropolitan since 1922) transferred the seat of his diocese to Paris, where at 12 Rue Daru near the Arc de Triomph, the large church, originally serving the Russian embassy, became the cathedral.

The Archdiocese was to be caracterized by the two attributes induced by Metropolitan Evlogiy: the legacy of the Russian Orthodox spiritual tradition, as it was regenerated by the Moscow Council of 1917-1918 (pastoral concern, reception of migrants) and mission in the host land, which is necessarily part of a perspective of renewal and diversification.

Beyond the vicissitudes of history and the ecclesiological-canonical tremors that have agitated it, it is clear that the Archdiocese has constituted a privileged ecclesial area of witness and mission.

Although we must not forget some great names who remained faithful to the Moscow Patriarchate or to the "Russian Church Outside borders" (from which the Archdiocese will unfortunately be administratively separated), most of the influence of Orthodoxy in the diaspora in Western Europe, in the first half of the 20th century is due to theologians grouped around the Saint-Serge Institute in Paris – which counts His Eminence Evlogiy among its founders – from which came all the theologians trained in this Parisian Orthodox tradition such as those who were to heighten the Saint Vladimir Seminary in New York to the level of a university with a world reputation, and from which come in turn,.

In the wake of the Russian theological and spiritual renaissance, this school, called the "School of Paris", rediscovered and thus reaffirmed orthodox theology, spirituality and ecclesiology. In doing so, it has aroused an openness and a benevolent conviviality, which today explains the European dimension of the Archdiocese, its multi-ethnicity and its liturgical plurilingualism. It is through this open and unifying testimony, carried by the spiritual legacy of Metropolitan Evlogiy - "Freedom of spirit in the Church is sacred" - that many members of the Archdiocese, clerics and laymen, have largely contributed, with others, to the meeting with the Orthodox of other national and jurisdictional origins.

A painful question: why have ties with other Russian churches been strained for so long?

In November 1921, the High Administration met in a Council in Sremsky-Karlovcy (Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, future Yugoslavia). But the Council was not be able to play the unifying role that was expected of it.

His Eminence Evlogiy and a small number of bishops opposed a majority coalition that was formed to vote for extreme political resolutions: the demand for a restoration of the monarchy and in particular of the Romanov dynasty, plus a call to wage an international war against the Soviet power. By supporting a project to restore the Romanovs, the Church would have found itself in the midst of a dynastic crisis dividing the survivors of the imperial family decimated by the massacres. Also, a resolutely monarchist stance excluded the many faithful who did not adhere to this ideology, including many members not only of the clergy but also of the cadres of the army and "white" governments. The Church was thus in danger of losing its unifying role among the hundreds of thousands of exiles. Even more critical, a direct call to arms by the Church in exile, would necessarily have had deadly consequences undoubtedly forseen by His Eminence Evlogiy and those who were part of the minority. While a great war against a terrorist and genocidal government can still be understood today as necessary, the only result that could be expected, in 1921, from an official call to arms by bishops in exile, while the great powers only half-heartedly helped the white armies in debacle and would very soon, one after the other, recognize the Soviet State, would have caused an extreme worsening of the condition of the ecclesiastics and the faithful who, starting with Patriarch Tikhon, held as a genuine hostage by Soviet forces, remained in their parishes which were already suffering from terrible repressions.Consequently, the resolutions of the Council of Sremsky-Karlovcy immediately served as a pretext for the Soviet power to strengthen their repressions against the Church.

On May 5, 1922, an edict signed by Patriarch Tikhon with the approval of all the ecclesial administration remaining in Russia, withdrew its homologation from the High Administration while confirming the authority over Western Europe of Metropolitan Evlogiy. The bishops, priests and laymen forming the majority of the Council in Sremsky-Karlovcy and considering that Patriarch Tikhon was no longer free of his words reorganized into the "Russian Church Outside the Border". Although the situation remained extremely tense with Metropolitan Evlogiy, the latter made an effort not to officially sever ties with the Russian Church Abroad. He did notseek to impose his authority in Western Europe on ecclesiastics recognizing the authority of the Church Abroad. At the same time, walking a tightrope, he tried to keep in touch with the mother church of Moscow and its primate, Patriarch Tikhon and then his successor Metropolitan Sergius, while understanding that the latter was no more than a prisoner of the regime deprived of almost any initiative and free speech. In 1927 he was definitively condemned by the Church Outside the Borders which considered that this maintenance of the link with Moscow had gone much too far. In 1930 it was Metropolitan Serge, obviously forced by the Soviet power, who "deposed" Metropolitan Evlogiy for having participated in a vast international prayer movement in favor of persecuted Christians – which was relayed by the Soviet press as a defamatory and hostile anti-Soviet act.

Under these conditions and in order to resolve an unprecedented canonical situation, the archdiocese of Metropolitan Evlogiy sought the protection of the "first among equals" of the primates of the Orthodox Church – the Patriarch of Constantinople. Thus, on February 17, 1931, ecumenical patriarch Photius II accepted the diocese of His Eminence Evlogiy within his patriarchate with the status of provisional exarchate. At the same time, Metropolitan Evlogiy said: "Of course, we do not secede, we do not separate ourselves from the Russian Mother Church." The Archdiocese was to remain within the Patriarchate of Constantinople under different names and under different statutes until 2019 when the majority of its clergy and parish councils voted to join the Moscow Patriarchate.

Despite the divisions, the Archdiocese maintained ties, including prayer or personal friendship, with members of the Moscow Patriarchate and of the Russian Church Abroad. Metropolitans Evlogiy and Antoniy (Khrapovitskiy), primate of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR), experienced a moment of reconciliation during meetings that attempted to re-establish official ties. The Orthodox Churches of Serbia (where great efforts were made for a definitive reunification) and of Jerusalem played the role of mediators and a spiritual link was maintained between the three separate Russian jurisdictions through these two patriarchates. Despite the divisions, several concelebrations took place between bishops of the Archdiocese and of the ROCOR, and between bishops of the Archdiocese and of the Patriarchate of Moscow. Prominent parishioners of the Moscow Patriarchate and the ROCOR have also contributed to the influence of the Archdiocese through their work within its institutions. The youth associations served as a place of conviviality between parishioners of the different jurisdictions (the Russian Student’s Christian Movement bringing together young people from the Archdiocese and the Patriarchate of Moscow, the Vitiaz Association bringing together those of the Archdiocese and the ROCOR, as well as the Patriarchate of Moscow from the end of the 1980s) and also served as a meeting ground between the prelates.

Good relations between the Archdiocese and the other Russian jurisdictions, were certainly more informal than official, but were respectful, even cordial. Regular personal contacts were maintained for years between priests and especially between lay people working together on important joint projects (humanitarian, cultural, or educational). Above all, many family or friendly ties erased many differences. Countless festivities, educational projects and other events of a cultural nature, were organized during moments if not of informal reconciliation, at least in moments of dialogue.

The three jurisdictions should be considered definitively reconciled since the reuniting to the Moscow Patriarchate of the ROCOR in 2009 and of the Archdiocese in 2019.

The Archdiocese of the 21st century: in a new world.

Globalisation, accelerated trade between Western Europe and East Slavic countries and the transformation of Western European societies through ethnic and religious diversification due to immigration from Africa and Asia – this is a rapidly changing situation that places the Archdiocese in an environment very different from that of the 1930s (an environment in which churches wereformed by parishioners who had lost everything, forced to adapt to a foreignsociety) and very different from that of the 1960s and 1970s, when there was debate about an imminent erasure of the Russian culture of the descendants of immigrants and their ability to adapt or not to a society that was still very Catholic or Protestant and where immigrants The social reality of the West Europe had not yet been upsetting the social reality of the West.

In the 21st century, there was a massive arrival of people speaking Russian and of other Slavic immigrants – permanent immigrants, temporary expatriates, or transient travelers – but also, with the appearance of new parishioners, converts to Orthodoxy from all cultures of the globe (including priests and deacons) converging on the great metropolises of Western Europe, the Archdiocese, one hundred years after its formation, is facing new challenges and new vocations.

The Archdiocese, a diocese now attached to the Moscow Patriarchate, enjoying essential autonomy – theological, liturgical and pastoral, but also administrative and financial – has all the assets to pursue the mission that has been its own since its origins: to bear witness to the Orthodox faith here and now and to work for its unity in this world "so that the world may believe". On this basis and in this perspective, the Archdiocese, despite the difficulties and obstacles of a geopolitical nature, will participate in any initiative likely to improve the canonical situation of local Orthodoxy while respecting the ecclesiology of communion.

In addition, living in countries where Orthodoxy is a minority, the Archdiocese intends to continue its testimony also in respect of local Christian identities inheriting other spiritual and theological traditions. Thus the communities of the Archdiocese establish, maintain and develop fraternal relations with the Christian communities of other faiths, from which they sometimes receive help and support. Like Metropolitan Evlogiy, they often participate in ecumenical dialogue and prayers for Christian unity, and create links at the level of parish communities while giving a testimony of common service in society.